It’s not exactly breaking news, but it’s such darn good news that I’m going to repeat it here anyway:
Kimberley Griffiths Little’s GODDESS, pitched as “the YA Red Tent”, to Karen Chaplin at Harper Children’s, in a significant deal, in a pre-empt, in a three-book deal, for publication in beginning in 2013, by Tracey Adams at Adams Literary (US).
Let me tell you something: if you’re looking for a YA author who is both incerdibly humble and astoundingly generous to her fellow writers in the face of this kind of business, you need go no farther than Kimberley Griffiths Little. Significant deal? (1) Pre-empt? Three-book deal? Even if I didn’t know what that meant, I would be impressed. And now we move on to the second part of the interview, concerning writing YA fiction.
I recently read an article by Patty Campbell (2) where she defines middle grade as something “that speaks to a young person’s practical attempts to find out how the world works,” and that the middle grade MC is concerned with fitting in and finding a place in the world. YA characters , in contrast, are looking to answer the question, “Who am I and what am I going to do about it?” and YA plots involve “resolution of external conflict linked to realization for the protagonist that helps shape an adult identity.” You’ve just signed a (significant!) deal for three YA books. How do you get into the right frame of mind to write YA? How different a writing experience is YA from MG?
This is a tough question! I’m not sure I’ve ever sat down and actually analyzed my writing process as I switch between age groups. I’ve always loved reading both MG and YA books and I love writing for them both.
When I start a Young Adult project, the way I get into the right frame of mind is the same as my method for getting into the head of a Middle-Grader: I go back in time to when I was a teen and try to capture those same uncertain feelings and questions and angst that all teens experience as they cross the threshold of childhood and leap—or crawl—into adulthood. There are definitely different issues explored in a YA novel as opposed to a MG. Teens have strong, crazy feelings about their romantic relationships. And not just romantic relationships, but boy/girl friendships evolve in a variety of new ways throughout those teens years.
A Young Adult novel might be a story of friendship and family and school (which most MG books are structured around) and yet the main character is going to be living in a much more adult-centered world. They look at their teachers and parents in a more caustic and sarcastic way. They question EVERYTHING going on in the world and around them. They rebel and re-evaluate their own value systems and beliefs and desires. They are concerned about what they’re going to do once they get out of high school, and are much more consumed with thoughts and decisions and problems concerning college, work, or marriage which all loom in the near(er) future.
Perhaps that’s why there are so many YA trilogies! Teens have more complicated lives where there are no easy solutions or answers to problems, which means that a novel for teens is going to be bigger and more complex, and often a book needs more space to explore the plot and main character’s problems.
I spend a lot more time plotting a YA because the story is usually going to have MORE characters and MORE problems and MORE internal conflict and angst and decisions. As a writer, we need to go back in time and relive our own experiences and feelings: first dating experiences, first romances, first kiss, new friendships, embarrassing moments, the times of joy and the times of grief.
The danger—as an adult writer—is to have my teen Main Character too self-aware or too sophisticated and knowledgeable. Teens are still very inexperienced, they make wrong choices and mistakes, they’re headstrong, they test the adults around them, they’re impulsive and reckless, and yet they think they are smarter and wiser than the adults who keep interfering in their life! So as a writer, I have to be careful of the voice and inner dialogue of my characters so that it comes across as real. Teen angst as well as those powerful feelings about their world and relationships, including the impulsive recklessness needs to be in your YA story, whether you’re writing a contemporary, a historical, fantasy or romance.
Kimberley, thank you so much! And I can’t wait to see what 2012 brings.
1. What’s with all the arcane language about publishing deals? You may never find out what it means in dollar figures, but this is practical guide to real world book deals.
2. I can’t find a link to this article, but here’s the citation: Campbell, Patty. “The Sand in the Oyster: Middle Muddle.” The Horn Book Magazine 76.4 (2000): 483-487.